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9 Tips for Managing Joint Pain

    • December 18, 2023
    • Wellness
    • 3 minute read
  • Karina Bailey, FNP-C

For older adults, joint pain can seem as normal as gray hair and laugh lines. But aching joints don't have to hold you back. Here are nine proven tips for managing joint pain.

1. Identify the Source of Your Pain

Joint pain can have different causes and different treatments. Here are a few common causes:

Osteoarthritis (OA): This disease damages bones, cartilage and other joint parts. It causes stiffness, pain and can make it difficult to move your arms, hips and legs. It's the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 32.5 million people in the United States.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): In this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the lining of joints (and other parts of the body). Symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling and stiffness. Symptoms can flare up for days or months and then subside.

Gout: This form of arthritis happens when the body accumulates too much uric acid, which results from digesting certain foods. It causes pain and stiffness and makes joints red and hot.

Bursitis: This condition occurs when the bursa — a sac that cushions a joint — swells and gets infected. Possible causes include overexertion, RA and gout.

Injury: Strains, sprains and fractures can all result in severe joint pain.

Your ArchWell Health provider can help determine what's causing your pain and how to treat it. Many treatments help regardless of the cause. Here are some to try at home.

2. Head to the Medicine Cabinet

Several over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, that you can find at your local pharmacy or grocery store, treat joint pain, including:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others): Relieves pain, fever and inflammation
  • Naproxen sodium (Aleve and others): Relieves pain, tenderness, swelling and stiffness

These pain medications are safer than opioids. They're also just as effective, according to a study of people with knee and hip arthritis.

But these drugs do carry some risks. For example, overusing acetaminophen can damage your liver. Make sure you talk to your doctor before adding these medications to your daily routine.

3. Try a Topical Remedy

A good alternative to taking another pill is to try a medicated cream. Some, which work like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, can help if you have arthritis in smaller joints. Others, which include a chili powder extract called capsaicin, help with minor pain from rheumatoid arthritis.

4. Heat It Up or Cool It Down

If you've spent a long day working in your garden or running around with grandkids, heat and cold both offer pain relief for your joints. They aren't interchangeable, however.

Heat helps with stiff joints and achy muscles. Try one of these techniques:

  • Start the day with a warm shower
  • Warm your joints with a heating pad before exercising
  • Wrap a painful joint in a warm compress for 20 minutes
  • End the day in a warm tub or heated pool

Cold helps with swollen joints and acute pain. For example, if you strain an ankle, apply a cold pack for 15 minutes at a time up to 4 times a day. Don't have a cold pack handy? Grab a bag of peas from the freezer.

5. Lose Weight

Being overweight or obese adds extra stress to joints. Every pound of body weight puts up to 5 pounds of pressure on your knees. Also, fat causes inflammation throughout the body.

Dropping 10% of your body weight could cut arthritis pain in half. It would also reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

6. Get Active

Moderate to vigorous physical activity has countless benefits. It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and several cancers. It improves balance and coordination. It strengthens bones. It supports weight loss. It fights depression.

And, yes, it helps with joint pain. Exercise builds supporting muscles, increases range of motion, lubricates the joints and floods the joints with nutrients and oxygen.

You may be familiar with these basic guidelines for physical activity:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, like going for a walk or swimming, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, like walking on an incline treadmill or playing pickleball, plus

You can reach those goals with joint-friendly activities. Choose low-impact aerobic activities like walking, cycling, water aerobics and gardening. Limit weight training to 2 or 3 sessions per week.

Also, listen to your body. “No pain, no gain" is not good advice — especially when it comes to caring for your joints.

7. Quit Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of rheumatoid arthritis and some forms of osteoarthritis. It causes inflammation throughout the body, including the joints. And it's a leading cause of gum disease, which itself contributes to arthritis. If all that weren't enough, smoking cuts the effectiveness of a key RA drug, methotrexate, in half.

8. Consider Alternatives

Meditation, yoga, deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques can help you cope with your pain. A mental health professional might suggest cognitive behavioral therapy, a proven technique for fighting self-defeating thoughts. Some patients find relief through acupuncture. Joint injections are another great option for alternative methods.

9. Talk with Your ArchWell Health Doctor

Every form of joint pain is different, and so is every patient. If home remedies aren't working, your doctor can diagnose your problem and come up with the right treatment.

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About the Author

Karina Bailey, FNP-C, Nurse Practitioner, Tucson

Karina Bailey, a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C), grew up in Orlando, Florida and now she’s putting her skills to use by providing quality care for seniors. “I believe the geriatric population deserves providers who promote exceptional healthcare,” she says. “I chose ArchWell Health because of the care model it provides to a population and community that is in need of comprehensive care.” Married with three children, Karina still finds time to enjoy Pilates, traveling, and decorating.

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